Food Hubs: A Growing Model for Resilient Food Systems

Samples of items available for sale at the Methow Valley FoodShed

There are many ways that locally grown and produced food can find its way into the hands of local eaters—think farmers markets, CSAs, and grocery stores. Food hubs are another innovative model that has grown in popularity across the country over the last several decades, gaining particular momentum these last few years in response to the COVID pandemic. While foods hubs can vary greatly in shape and size, they are all businesses or organizations that actively manage the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of local food products. We are especially lucky to have an abundance of them right here in the Pacific Northwest, which speaks to our vibrant and well-connected regional food system.

Food hubs (many of which are cooperatively owned by farmers and producers) can take on a number of shapes and can be hosted in either online or physical spaces, but mainly fall into three structural categories:

  • Farm to business/institution models
  • Farm to individual consumer models
  • Hybrid models

As a model for smaller scale food systems and community economic development, food hubs provide a wide array of benefits to both producers and customers. For farmers, hubs provide a means of collective marketing and distribution, saving them time and money and allowing them to focus on what they do best—growing and crafting delicious nutritious food for their communities. Producers also set their inventory limits, which means there is less risk of potential waste in the system (in contrast to something like a farmers market where growers pick what they think will sell, but may end up with product leftover at the end of the day). Collectivizing also allows producers to potentially access larger markets that they may not be able to approach as individuals.

Because food hub offerings are consolidated in one central place, customers (whether individuals or wholesale buyers) are provided with an efficient one-stop-shop that can save them time and that can be accessed at their convenience. In contrast to larger wholesale distribution where small farmers’ stories often get lost, food hubs also maintain and celebrate producers’ individual identities as a means of cultivating transparency in the food system. This allows customers to know the who, how, and why of where their food comes from, while also actively promoting individual food producer’s businesses.

Examples From Our Own State:

LINC Foods (Spokane, WA) is a worker and farmer-owned hub that offers an online marketplace for both direct-to-consumer and wholesale shoppers, and a CSA-type subscription that gets buyers a weekly box of local veggies, fruit, cheeses, meats, beer and other artisanal items.

Puget Sound Food Hub (Mount Vernon, WA) is a farmer-owned cooperative and wholesale distributor that delivers locally produced food to restaurants, hospitals, schools, and grocery stores throughout the Puget Sound region. (You may have even seen some of their yogurt, cheeses, veggies, berries, and mushrooms at the Mazama Store, who frequently buys through them throughout the year).

Local Update on Farming and Food Hubs

We are also happy to report that a new entity of this kind has been started in our very own home valley! Methow Valley FoodShed is an online store where locally grown and crafted food from a variety of farmers and producers can be ordered and picked up weekly in either Winthrop or Twisp. Originally started in 2021 by a handful of valley producers including BCS Livestock, Wild Plum Farm, Doubletree Farm, and Nettle Grove Farm, it has grown to include other producers and food makers, and offers everything from lamb, beef, and salmon to eggs, milk, fresh vegetables, herbal teas, and honey. You can sign up for the FoodShed’s weekly email here, and if you’d like to order, simply visit their online store and place your order by Tuesdays at 11pm. You can then specify whether you’d like to pick up in Winthrop or in Twisp on Fridays, at your convenience!

While the Methow Valley has a rich agricultural history and our community is committed to keeping that heritage alive, our farmers are also currently facing extreme challenges. These include the financial instability of farming as the cost of living and land increases, competition with a conventional food system that exploits labor and land to produce cheap food, a lack of access to experienced labor and the costs associated with it, and increasing variability due to climate change and supply chain shortages. As we take on these challenges to cultivate a thriving local food system aimed at feeding our community and beyond, no singular model will be our silver bullet; rather, we will need a diverse array of creative solutions that we can call upon and build from. The food hub model can serve as an important asset in our toolbelt as we work toward more resilient systems in the Methow.

Written by Madelyn Hamilton, Mazama Store Produce Buyer & Local Food Systems Advocate